"Are you sure I can't get you there on Val Air?" Dressed in a designer Italian suit, drawing stares from some of the passersby, Virgil stood next to me at the concourse of the Queen City Airport.
"Not so loud," I hissed. "Do you want people to know?"
Virgil smiled, but dropped his tone just a little. "Know what Athena? No one here expects to see either of us here, especially in our civvies. It's a matter of perception. They see two young friends seeing one another off."
I looked around and saw he was right. A piece of wisdom from my father popped into my head at this revelation. "Athena, dear, most people don't spend time thinking about you, they're busy thinking about themselves!" As usual, Papa was right.
I heard the PA announce my flight and I hugged Virgil. "Take good care of things while I'm gone," I said.
"Don't you worry about a thing here," he said. "Daisy will be just fine. You just be careful in Egypt, y'hear? And come back soon!"
The pilot announced the approach to London and I smiled at the memory. My finger traced my lips where Val had kissed me long and hard. I leaned back in my seat and stretched. The flight to London had been uneventful. I was feeling a need to stretch and eat during the three hour layover.
After touchdown I passed off the plane, and headed for the concourse. I didn't have to bother with customs as I wasn't staying, and soon I spotted a nice little overpriced restaurant. I sat down to coffee and chatted casually with the hostess, named Sally. She had a winning smile despite the lateness of the hour in England, and I acted on her suggestions to enjoy a meal of bubbles and squeak with my coffee. I set up my laptop, intending to catch up on some correspondence and my homepage came up with news about a calamity in Victory Park. My neighborhood.
I followed the link and listened as Jackie Marks described in detail the conflagration of my building. "Despite the brilliance and extreme heat of the blaze, the building was undamaged, thanks to the more than timely intervention of Captain Valiant. The good Captain has been seen with increasing frequency in Queen City, prompting many to ask, 'is there a budding romance between the Man of Marvels and our own White Owl?" A stock photo of me was flashed on the screen and to my dismay, I saw it was from Chateau magazine. The model wasn't really White Owl at all. I grimaced and felt my stomach gurgle a bit.
Just at that moment, my Iphone bleeped. I punched the respond button angrily.
"Hello?" I asked tentatively.
"Daisy is safe at my place, and your place is being rebuilt by the Coleman Group. I nearly had him Athena. We never sleep, you know."
"I thought that was the Pinkertons," I laughed. But it was a nervous laugh on my part. I'd heard the concern and frustration in his voice.
"Seriously Athena, someone has an enormous grudge, with either White Owl or with you. The guy I missed matched the description Scirocco gave. Please be careful and don't take any risks, OK?
"Oh come on Virgil, I appreciate your concern, but what could possibly happen on an archaeological dig?"
I seem to remember terrorists on one in particular," he retorted.
That stopped me and I suddenly felt my blood run cold. The incident he'd referred to, was my very first outing as White Owl, just after our dig had been taken over by European terrorists. My cousin Jason went for the police while I went into action with the new gifts I'd received.
"I promise I'll be careful Virgil. My flight lands in Cairo in the afternoon; and I'll spend the night there. Dr Sahdi will send someone to pick me up the next day, so I'll be fresh and alert."
"Care for some company tonight?"
"No!" I was adamant. "We need to spend some time apart too, Virgil, to develop as individuals." My mind went back to Jackie Marks' comments. My hand clutched at the Chi Rho cross pendant around my neck; a gift Captain Valiant had given me. It was made of extremely rare metals . Not gold or platinum but it shone brighter than either of them.
I also thought about Father Timothy's sermon from the previous Sunday. "Love is patient, love is not rude..."
"I'm sorry Virgil, I was thinking about Father Tim," I said. I could almost sense the smile crossing his face.
"Well I'm the part that wants to protect all things Athena. But I also know about trust. So I'll trust you'll be fine. But will you do me one favor?"
"Will you make sure to wear you guild comlink?"
My heart melted. "If it will make you happy. But it will have to wait until I get to Cairo, when I can catch up to my luggage."
"I guess that will have to do," he said. I could hear the concern in his voice. But his next words caught me completely off guard. "Be safe Athena, I love you."
I swallowed hard. Though I'd seen it demonstrated so often, this was the first time he'd actually said the words out loud. What could I say...What should I do? The words tumbled out before I could consider or catch them.
"I love you too. You're a marvel."
"No that's the guy in Fawcett City," he said, teasingly. "See you soon."
I snapped the phone shut and sat, troubled over my emerging relationship. Was Athena in love with Virgil? Was Owl in love with Captain Valiant? Was there room for all that ego and compartmentalization in a relationship?
I almost missed the call for my plane and caught the plane seconds before the door was shut. I dozed fitfully the whole way to Cairo.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Three Weeks Ago...
The doors to the Transvaal supercollider in Praetoria closed quietly as Dr Henryk deBoer and Dr Sera Amasa slipped into the control room.
DeBoer was an older Afrikaans physicist, who's Nobel Prize in physics had kept him in place at the University of Praetoria after the ending of apartheid. Now pushing seventy, Dr deBoer was a thin, wiry man with a well tanned skin and merry brown eyes. His gray mustache twitched as he lit the harsh Dutch tobacco in his Oom Paul pipe.
"All right, Sera, this is your show," he said quietly, turning to his assistant. Dr Sera Asama was a stunning beauty from Nairobi, and had been Dr deBoer's assistant for the last three years at the Trans Vaal site. She was sleek and built like a runner, with a newly minted PhD. She turned her lean form to the recorder and spoke. "Test 16, Transvaal Collider, Dr Sera Amasa and Dr Henryk deBoer witnessing. She flipped a switch and scanned the entirety of the collider in a matter of minutes. "All areas clear. Increasing Particle Acceleration."
For a few moments nothing visible happened. The particles shot through the superconductor at ludicrous speeds, then all at once the unthinkable happened.
A large explosion, or perhaps a very tiny Big Bang. The explosion expanded slightly and Amasa and deBoer saw into several universes at once. And something else.
"Look!" said deBoer. "Someone coming through the rift!"
"Impossible," said Amasa. "The power levels would tear just about anyone apart!" She scrambled, pressing buttons and shutting down the experiment.
DeBoer just barely beat her to the door. He flung it open and looked at the body laying on the floor. Something man shaped, in a form fitting black outfit, trimmed in gold. DeBoer could hear him muttering. "Free...free....but where?"
"Oh mein Gott!" shouted deBoer. "Are you all right my boy? How did you get in there?"
He reached out to assist the man on the floor.
"Out of my way you useless old fool!" shouted the man in black, pushing Dr deBoer through the door and back into the control room. The doctor slammed into the control board. He grunted in pain and slid to the floor, unconscious.
"Oh he was delicious," smirked the dark man. "But what a pathetic life."
"You've hurt him," shouted Dr Amasa. She ran toward the villain with a dark rage in her eyes. But the man in black caught her arm easily and twisted it up behind her back. Dr Amasa yelped in pain, then felt a hand on her head, ripping away her precious memories.
"Don't worry my beauty! Your fate will be less severe than that doddering old busybody's...and GREAT THOTH!" He spun Amasa around and squeezed her shoulders tightly to her side.
"You're one of THEM, aren't you?" His dark eyes narrowed as he studied Amasa's face. "You're one of those gaudily costumed do gooders that defend this pathetic planet! And you know...HER!"
Dr Amasa wiggled in vain as the dark man held her tightly in his grip. "I don't know what you're talking about!!"
"Oh I think you do. What is your other name Doctor?" His hand pressed tightly against her head. Amasa howled as if her soul were being ripped from her body.
"Scirocco!" she screamed in unison with the villain, tears rolling down her cheeks.
"Scirocco is it? As fast as the desert winds and as lovely as the night over Thebes. Well we'll see how fast you can run with multiple fractures in your legs. Dr Amasa's screams were stilled by the fact she slipped into unconsciousness from the pain.
Queen City Museum of Natural History, Two weeks ago...
"Look Director Chatterjee, I'm an archaeologist..." I began for the tenth time.
"In RESIDENCE!" Chatterjee completed my sentence. "How can I run my museum without my foremost interpreter, Athena? You can't quit on me like this."
I sighed. "First, I'm not quitting. I'm merely going on a dig as the artist and journal keeper. Eight weeks isn't really that long. And it's the archaeologist part of me that needs to go. Consider it as part of my continuing ed credits.
"Second, there aren't any new archaeological exhibits scheduled for the summer so I won't be needed to interpret, and I'll be back in plenty of time to help with the Hopewell and Adena exhibits starting in October. You don't pay me a salary, you only provide me with an office and a small budget--both of which are provided by the Nikos trust, I might add.
"Finally, this is a new temple--one of Khem-Adam, a near mythic legend in both Kanndaq and Upper Egypt. Dr Sahdi estimates it to be close to 5000 years old, and its undisturbed. And I've already negotiated both permanent pieces and the travelling exhibit in three years." I paused to let that settle.
The director smiled. One thing Ajay Chatterjee could never resist was more prestige for the Queen City Museum Center. "Why should New York, or Los Angeles or Chicago get all the glory first?" he said. With a beaming smile framed by his fussy little mustache he said, "All right, go! But realize I'm only doing this from the goodness of my heart."
I smiled and hugged him.
Daisy yelped as I nudged her from the bed. With an affronted waddle she meowed plaintively then bounded down the stairs. I flopped over on the big bed and felt the empty space beside me. I sat up in alarm. "Val?" I called.
"Down here," came the booming, reassuring baritone. "In the kitchen." I smelled bacon and blessed coffee. Slipping back into my nightgown and tossing a long robe over my shoulders I peered over the rail of the loft into my kitchen.
"You're amazing you know," I said.
"No, Amazing works out of Champion City I think," he said, a cute smile on his face. Despite our having the entire building to ourselves at the time, he was still in his Virgil Coleman disguise--his normally sandy hair was darkened through some miracle in his comb, and he had cute little wire rimmed glasses on his face. He had a Streeling University sweatshirt and a pair of loose athletic shorts covering the rest of his wonderfully athletic frame.
I laughed at his joke as I slipped down the stairs and poured myself some coffee. The blend was dark and mellow, mild with no acidic bite. "What's for breakfast?" I asked.
"Brunch," he replied. "Its almost eleven and you're leaving tomorrow for Egypt. As to your question, its French toast with strawberry syrup and whipped cream. And the coffee is from a small plantation I know in Chile.
Virgil carefully set the plates in front of me and pulled a small bouquet of fresh freesias into place as well. Then he sat across the table from me, gazing expectantly at me and motioning for me to eat.
The French Toast was heavenly.
"Where did you learn to cook like this?" I asked.
"My mother insisted that all her kids needed to know how to cook, clean house and mend their own clothing."
"All her kids? There are more like you?"
"No I'm the only traveller and the only child my parents raised. It's just the way Mom used to say it." Virgil seemed very wistful.
I smiled, and he beamed at me. "I love seeing you smile," he said.
"Well I like to see other parts of you," I replied. "But I'd better get the dishes done--its only fair." I ran the water and scrubbed while Virgil went upstairs. I could hear the shower running, but it was a short shower. I felt a soft hand on my shoulder.
"You know, a girl could get used to this," I began, then turned to look at Virgil. He was dressed in his Captain Valiant costume and I suddenly realized why the shower had been so short.
"That was the Golden Archer. Somehow, someone got to Scirocco in her secret id. Do you think this is a good time to be leaving?" His eyes locked on mine and I could see the concern, but also the doubt beginning to form.
"Don't you think I can handle this?" I said. "Archaeology is what I do Virgil; maybe more than White Owl it defines me. But I don't need a protector, Cosmopolis does!" He nodded.
"All right Athena, I wasn't trying to be possessive, just concerned." He hugged me and we kissed. Then he said, "I'll cover for you on monitor duty in the next month OK?"
"Sure, please. And I'm sorry for jumping to conclusions, Val."
"I'll be back to take you to the airport tomorrow?"
"No its OK I have a cab for me, and Diana is going to watch Daisy for me. But I'll check in with you, I promise."
I turned back to the dishes and when I finished he was gone.
to be continued...